"Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth."
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have killed them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in your great compassion wipe out my offense.
Wash me thoroughly from my guilt
and cleanse me of my sin. (R./)
For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is always before me:
Against you alone have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight. (R./)
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. (R./)
Give me again the joy of your salvation,
and preserve in me a willing spirit.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. (R./)
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."
The Bible is a rich resource of practical guidance for our spiritual life. But merely knowing what it says is not enough. Even the devil can quote Scripture for his purpose, as Shakespeare put it. If a little learning is a dangerous thing, knowing without doing is still more dangerous. Knowing the Bible as literature will be life-giving only if it also embraced in our outlook and behaviour.
The trust that God answers prayer is deeply embedded in Scripture, and Jesus highly commends prayer to his followers. Hosea quotes the liturgical prayer: "Come, let us return to the Lord" and adds the prediction: "He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up." This promise of salvation runs all through the Old Testament; and Jesus stands within this biblical promise by rising from the dead "on the third day." God answers the inward appeal of our heart, but is not impressed by any kind of arrogance, or merely reciting prrescribed formulas of prayer. Our words can become prayer only when they rise from a humble heart.
The Pharisee and the Tax-collector have very different approaches. One spends his prayer-time listing his own virtues and achievements; and the other just asks for mercy, humbly aware of being a sinner. Jesus clearly favours the latter approach!
Two men went into a church to pray, but they were quite different in their outlook. One of them offered a self-satisfied prayer: "I thank you God that I’m not like all the sinful throng." The other just asked quietly, "God, be merciful to me a sinner." Both wanted to speak with God but only one of them was heard. What distinguished them was their differing self assessment. Which of them do we most resemble? While the proud, devout man thought himself better than his neighbours, the other one recognised his poverty before God. In truth, both of them were equally needy, but only one of them recognised it.
We always come before God with empty hands. In the Our Father Jesus teaches us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses." A beloved formula of the Eastern church that has been prayed down through the centuries is the Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me, a sinner." This can be prayed to the rhythm of our breathing. It is a longer version of the prayer of tax collector. It reminds us of our poverty before God and this is a prayer that will always be answered.